Saturday, 25 May 2013

Growing old gracefully

Rilke - when he acted as secretary to Rodin - once wrote an account of how he followed someone down a Parisian street who was afflicted with a peculiar form of Tourette's Syndrome which affected the gait.

The man would begin to walk normally, then start to speed up until the steps became faster and faster until he was forced to come to a staggering halt to avoid falling over or running into a lamp-post. He would compose himself for a moment, then begin all over again - all the way down the street.

Rilke became fascinated by the man and decided to follow him for a while in order to try and get his head around what caused the man to walk in such an extraordinary and tiring way, and before he knew it, he had almost climbed inside the man's head.

Rilke - to his horror - found he was involuntarily copying the man, and being only a few paces behind him, it looked to everyone else as though he was making a joke of him, aping his movements in a cruelly humorous manner - an unthinkable thing for a sensitive poet to do.

I suppose that was an extreme example of how it is possible to be too empathic - something which paramedics and psychoanalysts are trained out of at the very beginning (except R.D. Laing, and look what happened to him).

I never understand it when some people say that they keep well away from the edge of cliffs because they would be filled with an overwhelming impulse to throw themselves off the edge if they so much as looked over. That's the very last thing that I would think of doing, so I enjoy a nice cliff-top walk whenever I am in Cornwall.

I am a little worried about losing my inhibitions through old-age though - if I make it that far in. It's bad enough after I have had a few drinks and feel compelled to blurt out what everyone else is thinking, but has the good grace to keep silent about. I don't want to end up as one of those old men who roll their trousers up over their knees if sitting in the middle of town when the sun comes out - let alone get caught trying to stuff my willy into the ear of a female fellow inmate of a nursing home.

The other thing I know about Rilke is that he was one of a small handful of men who had 'Maria' as a first name. The only other with that forename I am aware of was the bloke who wrote 'All Quiet On The Western Front'. I don't know which one Spike Milligan was singing about.

I bet Britta is now a little worried about actually meeting up with me in Bath when she has finished at the Chelsea Flower Show, after this post. She suggested meeting in a cafe or pub, but she will probably now insist on a cafe, and an unlicensed one at that. Let's hope the sun is shining on the day - I may even roll my trousers up.


  1. You set me thinking about interesting men's first names. Dale. Carol. My great uncle Pearl. All the men in his family were small. Uncle Pearl was always immaculately dressed, suit, tie, hat, gloves, cane. I'm sure his trousers always touched his shoes.

    1. You had a Great Uncle Pearl? I am impressed, and not a little jealous.

    2. I'll tell you a little more; he could pop into your imagination. English through and through, Pearl Cox. I missed the spats when I described him. Never married, but the beloved uncle to nieces and nephews. The last of twelve or thirteen children, and he lived until I was a teenager. I didn't know him well, but well enough to associate his name with his stature and persona.

      I am sorry for your water heater adventure(s).

    3. You look a little like my recently deceased sister, Joanne, and her married name was Cox. I miss those old names.

  2. I had an uncle who's given name was 'Arts'.

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